Monday, March 8, 2010

International Women's Day

Loaves and fishes. French horns and Samba drums. As the stars emerged last night, all roads leading into Mapaki were dotted with pinpricks of bobbing torchlights. Women from about 70 villages across the chiefdom; 800 or so women descended on Mapaki during the early night and have been dancing and celebrating for almost 24 hours straight (and we have another all night jam planned tonight to end off International Women's Day in style). I'd been been told that the women would be taking over the village and that no man would dare set foot outside his door last night. At about 10pm a visiting friend started for home, telling me that this is serious business and he would never dare transgress when given such directives. Unity prevailed though, the men begged to be able to stay up and out and join the women in drumming and dancing and the women conceded...but only until midnight, they said. By that time, I was exhausted from the heat and dryness and dust of pounding feet and beat of the kelle drum beside me and slipped away home through the dark night to spend a completely sleepless night listening to the drums go up and down and around the village all night. By 6:30am most of the women were gathered in small groups outside the Chief's house and making my way to greet people in the kitchen became an impossible job (how many times can you stop and say Seke! Wally! Momo, yes me bodi fine, abundo, bumpy, mighty to friends from distant villages not seen in over a year). Needless to say, the kitchen area was mayhem as all 800 or so extra bodies would need feeding later in the day and all hands in our household and beyond were on board, picking and cutting leaves, pounding groundnuts, cleaning smoky fish. This was my cue to make a hasty exit and slip away on the motorbike along the back road for an early morning literacy workshop and book delivery stop at Mayagba School. The drum beat heard on the way back was an enticingly different rhythm, as Mapaki was, for the first time, proud host to a school brass marching band (Girls' Secondary School of Gbonkolenken). The thinking was that this, in combination with a full day's agenda of speakers and music and drama, would give the girls of the chiefdom the motivation to stay in school until high school. I was blown away by the sounds of the band, which were a clear adaptation of the night-time traditional society's songs blended with jazz and a distinct samba beat played on slightly tattered instruments by girls who'd been standing and swaying in the sweltering heat for some time. Not sure how the girls felt, but it was an amazing way to end a spectacular weekend for me.

Sunday was my first day of rest here; first opportunity to simply sit in the kitchen with the women, girls and children, catching up on who has died, married, moved, has new grandchildren here, teasing Timbo's “first wife”, an elder friend with a wry sense of humour who sees herself as my rival for Timbo's affection, and greeting passing neighbours who call out for me to cook them some groundnut soup. As always, spending time in the kitchen observing, interacting and holding the babies is a calming, centering time for me, allowing to be breathe a bit and focus on what truly matters in life and work (still with an aching heart for baby Kadiatu and her mom).

I met my first “postal delivery” person at the junction today. He had a letter for someone in the village and asked us to deliver it. I puzzled over the name for a while until I realized the letter had been mailed in the U.K. ten years ago. It contained a broken cd. It puts last year's frustration over a one year wait for a parcel in perspective.

My days and activities in this, the last of our two-year joint PSI-cdpeace peace education program are coming to an end soon. When I'm asked what I'll do next, I tell my friends, only God knows what the future holds, though more and more, I'm thinking about a focus on children's literacy as a follow-up. Time will tell.